NBA security dept. hit with second discrimination lawsuit

Thursday, June 14, 2012

NEW YORK—The National Basketball Association's security department is being accused of sexual discrimination, the second lawsuit containing such allegations filed within the past six months.

On Monday, Kelley Hardwick, an NBA security director, filed a complaint in New York State's Supreme Court accusing the NBA and USA Basketball [USAB] of gender-based employment discrimination and accusing Geno Auriemma, the renowned coach of the women's basketball team at the University of Connecticut and coach of the women's U.S. national team, of improper sexual advances. Her complaint does not allege criminal actions, but violations of the human rights laws of New York City and the state.

Hardwick, a law school graduate and former NYPD detective, joined the NBA's security department in 2002 as a senior security manager, despite having applied for and subsequently performing the functions of a security director, her complaint claims.

In 2005, she requested a promotion to security director from her supervisor at the time, Bernard Tolbert, the NBA's then senior vice president of security. He granted her the title, "but failed to give her a salary increase commensurate with the position," according to her complaint. When she asked Tolbert why she did not receive a raise, Hardwick claims he said: "I thought you only wanted a promotion not a raise." In 2010, Tolbert left the NBA after being accused of sexual discrimination by another female NBA employee and the payment of "a sizable settlement," according to another lawsuit that involves the NBA's security department.

As a result of her experiences, Hardwick says since 2005 she "continually has slammed against the NBA's glass ceiling and has not received any promotions despite the fact that less or equally qualified males in the security department repeatedly have been promoted over or receive more monetary compensation" than her. Hardwick is the only female security director in the department.

Hardwick's duties within the NBA's security department include overseeing security for the Women's National Basketball Association and its players, including whenever those players travel to international events. Because the U.S. women's national team is made up of WNBA players, Hardwick oversaw security for the U.S. women's basketball team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 games in Beijing.

However, in late March 2012, Jim Cawley, Tolbert's successor as the NBA's senior vice president of security, informed Hardwick that she would not oversee security for the women's national basketball team at the London Olympics, according to her complaint. "Part of her job description is she is responsible for WNBA players when they travel abroad to international events," Randolph McLaughlin, Hardwick's attorney, tells Security Director News. "The players who play on the USA basketball team are all WNBA players, so when she's traveling she's really protecting the players for the National Basketball Association or WNBA. That's her job. She did it in 2004 and 2008. There was no reason to believe she wouldn't do it again."

Hardwick alleges that she was removed in retaliation for rejecting the sexual advances of Auriemma, the coach of the women's national basketball team, during a 2009 trip to an invitation basketball tournament in Russia.

Hardwick claims Auriemma approached her and a fellow NBA security employee one night in the hotel bar. After Hardwick and her colleague excused themselves and headed for their hotel rooms, Hardwick claims Auriemma “stalked, assaulted and battered [her] by following her to her room, grabbing her about the arm and attempting to forcibly kiss her on the mouth.” Hardwick was startled, but "utilizing her training as a police officer and security professional, reacted quickly by shoving him away and stating, 'What are you doing? You better check yourself before you get hurt!'" Auriemma reportedly walked away "red-faced."

When Hardwick returned to the NBA's offices, she reported the incident to her then-supervisor, Tolbert, who dismissed her allegations without investigating. "When that kind of complaint has been made, one would assume a responsible supervisor would in fact investigate that to see if [the company has] any exposure, just from a pure risk-assessment point of view," McLaughlin says. "But obviously Mr. Tolbert had his own issues with respect to these kinds of questions. He was sued himself for gender-based discrimination, so maybe he wasn't the best person to handle this."

Following the event, Hardwick claims Auriemma shunned her and retaliated against her in various ways, culminating in what Hardwick claims was an unfair use of influence to have Cawley remove her from her duties overseeing security for the London Olympics. At the time, Hardwick informed Cawley of the incident with Auriemma in Russia in 2009. As a result, the NBA's general counsel, Neal Stern, investigated her allegations. However, a month later Stern informed Hardwick that he had concluded the investigation and had determined that the decision to remove Hardwick from her Olympic assignment had nothing to do with her complaint regarding Auriemma. However, Stern admitted he never interviewed Auriemma during his investigation, according to Hardwick's complaint. "By acquiescing to the demands of Auriemma and USAB to remove [Hardwick] from her security duties with WNBA players traveling with USAB, the NBA has furthered and ratified the discriminatory actions of others," the complaint says.

Mike Bass, the NBA's senior vice president for marketing and communications, tells SDN that the NBA has "no comment on this pending litigation."

Auriemma also denied Hardwick's claims. "This claim is beyond false," Auriemma said, according to USA Today. "I will defend myself to the fullest, and I'm confident that the truth will ultimately prevail."

In an interview with The New York Times, which broke the story on Monday, Hardwick said she would not have pursued this suit if Auriemma "had not interfered with my job and my livelihood."

"[Hardwick] is a reluctant plaintiff," McLaughlin says. "She didn't really want to come forward and thought long and hard about it, but felt she didn't have any other alternative given the decisions that were made, particularly about the Olympic assignment."

Hardwick is seeking compensatory damages, awards for back pay and front pay, punitive damages and reimbursement for all fees related to the lawsuit.

This is the second lawsuit the NBA's security department has been named in recently. In December 2011, Warren Glover, a former security director for the NBA, filed a lawsuit alleging he was retaliated against for reporting acts of sexual discrimination occurring within the NBA's security department. McLaughlin is also Glover's attorney.

Though the cases share allegations of a discriminatory culture within the NBA's security department, McLaughlin tells SDN that they are very different cases. "Obviously, [Hardwick's] case involves allegations about a significant sports iconic figure, Mister Auriemma, and his alleged actions, and it also involves a glass ceiling," McLaughlin says. "So the cases have different allegations, they're really different complaints, they just happen to involve two employees—one former, one current—of the same department."

The Glover case is currently in discovery phase, McLaughlin says.